Updated in 2022! Is Vargo's Hexagon wood stove, the lightest backpacking stove we've ever tried, up to the job?
In case you haven't heard, I have a bit of an obsession with ultralight packing. The lighter, the smaller, the better! And one of my biggest pet peeves is when travel items described as "lightweight" are anything but. So when I had the chance to test Vargo's ultralight titanium backpacking hexagon wood stove, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical that a stove could even remotely be described as 'light'. Turns out, it's the lightest backpacking stove we've ever tried.
When the stove arrived, I soon had to change my tune. Instead of not being light enough, I was now worried that this hexagon wood stove might be too small and too light! With a base of just 5 inches in diameter and weighing just 4.1 ounces (116 grams) thanks to its titanium construction, it is the lightest piece of gear in my pack. It folds down completely flat like a piece of paper and takes absolutely no room in my bag. But can something so tiny be strong enough to work well?
Being our first time using the stove, we took the extra precaution of adding a layer of tinfoil underneath it but this isn't necessary. As we were starting our fire on a damp and rainy day, we decided to test a bit of an urban myth we had heard about fire starting - that Doritos chips make for excellent burning material! Sadly, we were out of Doritos but we did have tortilla chips and I can confirm that they make an excellent fuel. Despite the weather and my own minimal experience, a strong flame was burning within a minute!
Before long, we were able to close the stove's door and add our pot of water to the top. I wasn't feeling overly confident that such a small stove and such a small flame could heat water as quickly as the company claims (they suggest you can have boiling water in about 10 minutes). But I was wrong!!
Our water heated up quickly and within a few minutes it was warm enough to use as wash water and we did indeed reach a full boil within about 10 minutes. And this was with misty weather and on our very first attempt! I am convinced that any first time user would have a similar level of success - it was quick and easy and stress free.
The operating principles of this hexagon wood stove are simple - you unfold and set up the stove and arrange basic fire starting materials inside. We placed tinder at the bottom, surrounded by a layer of easy-to-catch small twigs and kindling, and then add more substantial, solid pieces of wood. We started with cardboard and paper scraps as tinder, added in nut shells and wood chips, and stood by with our 'real' wood for when we got a fire going. You do need a basic knowledge of fire building to be successful and the Vargo Hexagon comes with instructions and video links showing the process in easy to understand steps.
Despite my happiness with the Vargo Hexagon, it still won't become my primary camping stove. Ultimately, the thing I love best about it has come to work against it. The stove's small size is just not a good compliment to provincial and federal campgrounds, where wood is sold in large sticks of kindling that would never be compatible with the stove. It seems silly to bring such a tiny stove and then also bring a large axe to chop firewood into tiny chunks! Furthermore, many campgrounds also have rules about going off your campsite to gather fire materials from the woods. They want dead wood to naturally decompose in the forest and they don't want campers tramping through sensitive eco-systems.
Therefore, while I would hugely recommend it for ultralight expeditions and backwoods treks - or anyone who wants a backup system for their propane stoves - I don't think the Vargo Hexagon is practical for the traditional campground visitor. It would however be a good option for backpackers who occasionally mix camping into their plans and want to carry some basic gear without sacrificing space or weight in their pack. Priced at $60, it may seem expensive for such a tiny piece of equipment, but dedicated trekkers know that you get what you pay for when it comes to quality gear and this is definitely one piece that delivers on its promises of weight, size, and ease of use. It's an investment that would quickly pay off for anyone exploring the deep wilderness where every single ounce counts.
I'd love to hear from you - have you had any travel gear you were skeptical about? Were your suspicions confirmed or were you happily surprised?
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